Former mayor Cory Booker shares in blame for Newark, NJ’s water crisis, critics say: ‘He left a mess’

As thousands of residents of New Jersey‘s largest city received bottled water this week amid a contamination crisis, its former mayor — Democratic presidential contender Cory Booker — faced renewed backlash from critics who claim he mismanaged the city’s water commission during his time at City Hall.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urged local officials last Saturday to administer free water bottles to Newark residents after nationally certified filters in two of three homes tested showed the filters were not removing lead from drinking water as planned.

Officials handed out 38,000 filters last year to Newark residents who were potentially at risk of having contaminated drinking water due to outdated lead piping in the city’s water system.

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Critics claim Booker, a U.S. senator who served as Newark’s mayor from 2006 to 2013, failed to exercise proper oversight of the city’s water commission, making him partially responsible for the current water crisis.

“Booker has no credibility, especially on water,” Brendan O’Flaherty, an economics professor at Columbia University who put together a 2011 report on the commission, told the Washington Times.  “He did not leave a legacy of a well-functioning water treatment plant and engineering corps. He left a mess,” O’Flaherty said.

“Booker has no credibility, especially on water. He did not leave a legacy of a well-functioning water treatment plant and engineering corps. He left a mess.”

— Brendan O’Flaherty, Columbia economics professor who report on Newark, N.J.’s water commission

Until 2013, Newark’s water quality was managed by Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation.  As mayor, Booker was also chairman of the quasi-public agency and appointed its board members, NJToday.net reported.

City residents line up at the Boylan Street Recreation Center with cases of bottled water, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, in Newark, N.J., after recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tests showed elevated levels of lead in the drinking water in some areas. (Associated Press)

City residents line up at the Boylan Street Recreation Center with cases of bottled water, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, in Newark, N.J., after recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tests showed elevated levels of lead in the drinking water in some areas. (Associated Press)

In 2017, Linda Watkins Brashear, the watershed’s executive director from 2007 to 2013, was sentenced to eight years behind bars for accepting a $1 million bribe for awarding no-show contracts—a corrupt practice in which contractors are contractually guaranteed payment for work that will never be completed.

Booker had appointed Brashear to her position. Though Booker was never implicated in the scandal, a 2011 report by the comptroller’s office found he did not exercise proper oversight over the commission to ward off corruption. For instance, Booker never attended a board meeting and failed to name a proxy to attend on his behalf.

On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced that about 14,000 households were eligible to pick up free water bottles from four locations until further sampling can be conducted to ensure residents are not at risk of lead exposure, NJ.com reported.

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“Everyone deserves clean, safe water,” Booker said on Twitter Wednesday. “It’s shameful that our national crisis of lead-contaminated water disproportionately hits poor black and brown communities like my own.”

Booker is calling for federal resources to help fix Newark’s water crisis, something critics claim he has no grounds to do given his past.

“This is a guy who came in and preached transparency and accountability. On both of these fronts in the watershed issue, he failed and he failed dismally,” Guy Sterling, a member of the Newark Water Watch group that helped expose the scandal, told the newspaper. “If not the most glaring black mark on his records, it’s certainly one of them.”

“This is a guy who came in and preached transparency and accountability. On both of these fronts in the watershed issue, he failed and he failed dismally. If not the most glaring black mark on his records, it’s certainly one of them.”

— Guy Sterling, Newark Water Watch

The Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation went bankrupt in 2013. The city’s department of water and sewer took over its responsibilities.

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